Being A Woman Is An Occupational Hazard

It is easy to forget that women face unique hazards, both large and small, in the workforce. Unfortunately, there is no simple solution to risk. There are things that Human Resources can and can’t do to protect women from injuries at work.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) reports that women suffer from job-related stress, musculoskeletal injuries, violence, and other hazards of the modern workplace at rates higher than those for male workers. Other findings?

  • Gender-specific work stress factors, such as sex discrimination and balancing work and family demands, may have an effect on women workers above and beyond the impact of general job stressors such as job overload and skill under-utilization.
  • Women may receive less on-the-job safety mentoring than men from supervisors and co-workers. This can create a potentially dangerous cycle in which tradeswomen are asked to do jobs for which they are not properly trained, then are injured when they do them or are seen as incompetent when they are unable to do them.

In my experience, many Human Resources professionals defer the bread and butter safety issues to line managers and special safety committees. This has always bothered me because HR practitioners write job-classification documents, create job postings, and provide input on key hiring decisions. When we position ourselves as experts in talent, we should demonstrate an equal amount of concern for the personal safety and security of our employees. Whether it’s safety training for our female correspondents or ergonomic adjustments for our pregnant customer service representatives, HR can make a difference. And although HR should never own the sole responsibility of ‘safety at work’, I believe that safety — much like culture, wellness, and technology — can be a key differentiator for Human Resources departments.

More importantly, preventing physical injuries to women is a lofty and important goal for Human Resources. I hope it’s one that you will consider when writing your strategic Human Resources plan and goals for the upcoming year.

Photo credit iStockphoto

About the Author

Laurie Ruettimann


Tammy Colson

As an HR pro who worked in manufacturing or industrial companies most of my career, I had the unenviable task of being charged with leading the safety programs in my organizations.

You say that HR “defers the bread and butter safety to line managers and safety committees” and I must qualify that statement with: they SHOULD be relying on those folks to lead safety programs. These programs are only truly effective when the heart of the program is on the floor – meaning that the employees are the ones who own the ideas, with strong support from the top management team.

It took me many years of independent study, seeking out training materials and plowing through OSHA regulations to decipher what exactly we needed to be doing to protect our employees. I must say – safety in any type of industrial environment is a full time job – and it should be given to employees who have been trained in safety at a professional level, not just lumped in to the HR responsibilities. Namely because OSHA doesn’t care to hear that you are “just HR” when something goes wrong… and inevitably, something WILL go wrong.

White collar environments have fewer requirements – but training in what regulations apply should still be required. We can bring safety concerns to the attention of safety committees or managers as part of the coaching or team problem solving process, but Safety is TOO important. When its fitted in between benefits and succession planning, it becomes “just another HR program” – and that is bad for the people we are supposed to be protecting.


As a young man, I used to wonder why employers would hire a women to do certain jobs that seem to be better designed for men. But as I grew and learned, (also watching my grandmother, mom and aunts) I saw that women have been strong throughout history and made great contributions to America. It was during the Great Wars that the women held down the workforce and the family, while men went off to fight. This is not a history lesson, just a note to let you know I support “The Women of HR” . Keep posting and thanks for adding diversity to the HR Blog world.

Chris a.k.a newresource


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